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Black Men S.H.I.E.L.D?

We are living in the age of the Black woman. But you can not tell. 

The current successes of Black women across every area of American life are undeniable. Black women are enrolled in college at higher rates than any other demographic. Black female writers and directors are redefining success in Hollywood. Serena Williams has cemented her status as arguably the most outstanding athlete, male or female, of all time. Black women are running for political office at record numbers -- and winning. And the number of Black women CEO’s are rising as small and medium businesses owned by Black women impact employment numbers in our community.. But…...

Despite these accolades, Malcolm X's words about the treatment of Black women in society still ring as fact decades later: "The most disrespected person in America is the black woman," Malcolm blazoned in a 1962 speech. "The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman."

I am angry with myself for taking so long to write this. I am frustrated with myself for giving into our public conversations' toxic nature vs. my responsibility to speak my truth with conviction. I'm not even sure I should try to have these conversations publicly. Why? Because I have seen well-meaning brothers get blasted for confessing a level of commitment to our sisters while using the wrong words or an antiquated line of thinking. But I get it. So many of my sisters are tired of too many of us not getting it right. There is a healing that we need. And that only comes from us having communal conversations. It means men share what we are thinking, that I share and take the hits, fair or not so that hopefully I can add to the list of brothers proclaiming that we have to do and be something different and something better. So here I go, hoping you will hear the heart I have for my people in my admitted imperfection. 

This proclamation brother Malcolm made is not merely an indictment of the violence and oppression our sisters face at the hands of white America. It is an indictment of us as Black men and our failure to adequately stand up, speak out, show up, and fight for Black women. I'm talking about partnership, not patriarchy.

As Black men, many of us were raised by black women who had to do it all. They seemed to proficiently and comfortably fill the role of a superwoman persona that stripped them of their humanity. Countless times we've heard our mothers, big mommas, aunties, sisters, wives, girlfriends say, "I got it. I can do this on my own." A dehumanizing fallacy that we have believed, internalized, and actually normalized. Worse, too many brothers have denied our responsibility to at least say, "I got it, sis". Sure they may say, "no, I said I got it," or they may communicate a lack of trust in us being able to do it, but so what. At least we will have seen our mothers, and heard our wives, and stood up for our sisters. Support our sisters and be brave enough to let them then tell us if they want to accept it or not. Along the way, many of us stopped serving, loving, and defending Black women, not because they need it, but because we want to. And so, Black women continue to be the least protected women in existence, all while they watch us watch them love and defend us.  Because they want to and because we need it. 

Unfortunately, the public discourse around our relationship with Black women has become so toxic that the brothers who show up often suffer in silence, and the brothers who don't become all of us. Frankly, it is easy to understand why. Even though our sisters love us, they are tired of our bullshit and often righteous negligence. They continue to be abused, while used by the electorate, corporate America, and even their brothers. Their needs, concerns, and aspirations are perpetually secondary to ours as Black men, even in tragedy. The #SayHerName campaign resulted from us lifting the names of black men and ignoring, hell sometimes erasing the names of black women who were victims of the same inhumane system.

Breonna Taylor. Natasha McKenna. Dominique Fells. Sandra Bland. The list goes on.

I know I have a responsibility as someone raised and supported by black women to do more. My mother, my grandmothers, My great aunts and aunts, my wife, and my daughter deserve more from me. My sister-friends, with whom we acknowledge the value in each other, absent any romantic overtures, deserve more from me. My mentors like the late U.S. Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who gave me my first job out of high school, and my 7th-grade English teacher, Mrs. Nina Roseberry (Loving), deserve to know I was courageous. They were both arguably the most gangsta sisters I have ever met, but also the most nurturing, brilliant, and supportive women who demanded the best from me. They, too, deserve better from me. 

I have seen firsthand how capable our sisters are in fighting for and protecting themselves. I am married to a powerful woman and have made the mistake before of letting her take the weight because she could, instead of first positioning myself to take it and respecting her choice. As Black men, we must stand with and fight with our sisters. At times we may need to jump in front of and protect our sisters. Not because they are helpless, fragile withering flowers. But because we love them, and because they do it for us all the time, without hesitation. 

So how do we position ourselves to be available to our sisters as they see fit? We can start by promising to SHIELD our sisters. To stand as a shield against the forces of white supremacy, antiquated masculinity, and a culture that undervalues and dehumanizes them. A shield is a tool used by the warrior who chooses to use it. Not a mechanism of control. I want to stand with the brothers already acting as well as those willing to SHIELD Black women. The SHIELD promise goes as follows:

  • S - I commit to SEE my sisters.

  • H - I commit to HEAR, my sisters.

  • I - I commit to INFORM myself and my brothers.

  • E - I commit to ENGAGE my brothers with support and accountability to ensure that a culture that honors our sisters is nourished and thriving in us. 

  • L - I commit to LOVE my sisters without condition.

  • D - I commit to DEFEND my sisters from the world as they have attempted to do for me.

The SHIELD promise acknowledges the cultural obligation Black men and women have to one another. Not based on romance, situationships, or entanglements. It is based on our shared experiences, shared bloodlines, and shared destinies. As a result, we have a shared duty to fight for our people, survival, and legacy.

I realize that many men live this every day, both personally and institutionally. We do have some raggedy, fuckboys masquerading as men. But the vast majority of brothers I know are trying to figure it out as they navigate their own trauma, lack of models, and the simplistic and unfair image of the "always strong, never human black woman."

Reimagining our relationship means prioritizing respect before romance. Let's focus on valuing our sisters for who they are, disconnected from what they can do for us. The more we see their divine brilliance and allow them to see ours, building friendships and partnerships, the more we can build relationships rooted in legacy building over ego feeding. 

I don't proclaim to have all the answers. I'm just calling for us to have conversations rooted in love rather than hurt; challenge each other as we love; build with each other in our imperfection, and fight for each other at all costs. I want to build with men around this issue of SHIELD. I want to reimagine Black manhood as it relates to our women so that our sons reject the notion that Black women are strong enough to ignore, or that Black women SHOULD defend themselves as they defend us. Our sons must witness, learn, and model a lifestyle and culture of seeing, honoring, and standing with our sisters. 

What's next? I can't speak for everyone. I choose to SHIELD in my actions, with my crew, and in my community. I decide to build with brothers committed to doing the same and setting an example for brothers who are not yet there but want to be, as I learn how to be better myself. There is no perfect solution, but as black men, we can create a model. One where we focus on strengthening our relationships with our sisters as we become better ourselves. We will evolve how we operate with them, how we show up for them, and how we love them. 

If you are already on this journey, ready to commit, or struggling but open to talk, let's do it. On October 5th at 8 pm ET, we will have a conversation on my IG Live lifting brothers doing the work, and laying out some small things we can do to make SHIELD more than an acronym, but rather part of our DNA.

Receive my commitment as an offering of love, and know that I am willing to be critiqued with that same love from those who actually love US. We need each other more now and forever.

Your Brother,

Jeff